SUUF Spiritual Reflection
Sunday Morning March 15, 2020 from Rev. Glenn
The Seventh Principle of Unitarian Universalism is “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.”
That sentence sounds pretty (to me), but what does it even mean?
At a basic level, it is usually viewed as support for modern environmentalism. It is a refutation of the false ideology of “Man vs. Nature” towards a worldview of humans as part and parcel of nature; Humans are of the earth/natural world, interdependent. (It is interesting, you can quote bible passages from the Book of Genesis, which, depending on your translation and [non]-contextual interpretation, can support both opposing worldviews).
At a deeper level, it throws us a curveball with that word: interdependent. Usually in everyday life, we heard the words independent and dependent. We don’t usually hear the word “interdependent.” Years ago I was talking to a friend and I recited the seventh principle to her, (she was raised a Fundamentalist Christian). When I said the phrase “interdependent web of all existence” she did a double take at me and responded; “what…dependent…that is bad, right?!”
In her community, the world is fallen, everyone is inherently depraved and sinful, and to need help, to be dependent, is a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of. So she heard the word “dependent” in “interdependent”, heard the phrase “web of existence” ( = fallen world) and quickly assumed I was talking about something bad. But I wasn’t. Not at all.
The interdependent web of existence has parallels in other religions. In New Age speak, and some forms of Hinduism, people talk about the “Oneness,” we are all one.
From Buddhism is the concept of Indra’s Net, which is the web-like connections of cause and effect throughout all time and space.
But we live in a society where, dependent = bad. Needing help is shameful. Needing others is a sign of weakness. Rugged Individualism is the ideal. Pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps! (This is all over our current political discourse). This patently false ideology is often reputed in Unitarian Universalist sermons. We need each other. Homo sapiens are inherently communal animals. All evidence that I am aware of from biology, archeology, anthropology points clearly to this.
As a child, I attended a large UU church with a big religion education program. On a typical Sunday, the adults went to church service in the sanctuary "big church" while the youth when to classrooms for 45 minutes and then to chapel "little church" for the last 15 minutes. The chapel was a smaller room with gorgeous stone walls. As we filed into the chapel, all the children would sing the same hymn:
From you I receive,
To you I give,
together we share,
by this we live.
[#402 in the Singing the Living Tradition Grey Hymnal]
As a child, I thought this was just a hymn. I see it differently now. It was as if the adults in that church wanted me to remember the most succinct, most clear-eyed view of my human existence.
I live by my inter-dependence with others,
and the rocks and rivers and trees.
I give and I receive...over and over and over again.
And so with this as a backdrop, this Unitarian Universalist impulse: we need each other, we don’t have to do it alone…it was strange to get the news this week, that the way we can help each other most, is to stay home; & physically isolate ourselves. Reach other and touching others can be dangerous.
My colleague, the Rev. Lynn Ungar, struggled with that as well this week. Lynn is the Minister for Lifespan Learning at the Church of the Larger Fellowship. She is also a talented poet.
She told a reporter from the Chicago Tribute about her process:
"Ungar had been thinking about social distancing, the idea that to keep the virus from spreading we need to stay away from one another. She’d been reflecting on a question: How do we physically distance ourselves without emotional distancing? In this strange and befuddling moment, she thought, we need to recognize that moving away from other people isn’t an act of emotional disconnection but the opposite: It’s something to do out of a sense of community and compassion for the vulnerable."
From that strange and befuddling moment, she wrote this poem:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
Within a few hours, “Pandemic” had gone viral, on Wednesday 3/11/20. It was something people needed to hear.
(I will put a link to the poem on her website and to the article in the Chicago Tribune where she was interviewed on Friday below).
Know that you are loved.
We are not together in body this Sunday morning,
but we are together in spirit.
Call a friend.
This is a sabbath day, the most sacred of times.
- Rev. Glenn
We had originally scheduled a guest speaker for this day, Bert Campbell, who was to speak on Advocacy in Indigenous Communities. As you know, we had to cancel due to the Covid-19 Corona virus. (We will work with Bert to have him come and speak when in person Sunday services resume). This article below on the indigenous roots of Modern Feminism I read this week and found very interesting. It is by a Beacon Press author. (Beacon Press is the Publisher wholly owned by the UUA). Please read it if you are interested.
More Info on Rev. Lynn Ungar’s poem
Lynn Ungar's Personal Website
Column: ‘Pandemic,’ a little-known poet’s poem about the coronavirus, goes viral
Within a few hours, “Pandemic” had gone viral.
I discovered it when it floated repeatedly through my Facebook feed. A South Carolina cousin emailed it to me. The well-known writer Rebecca Solnit was among the thousands who shared it.
“Best thing I’ve read all day” and “I needed this” and “Healing” were typical of the responses.
But who was Lynn Ungar, who had written what may be the first viral poem about the coronavirus age? I wondered, so on Friday I went in search of her.
“A viral poem about a virus,” she said when I tracked her down by phone. “That’s funny in a twisted kind of way.”
Ungar, who’s 56, lives in Castro Valley, California, just south of Oakland. It turns out that in the 1990s she lived in Chicago, where she was the minister of Second Unitarian Church in the Lakeview neighborhood. It was in Chicago that she adopted her daughter, who’s now grown. These days, she’s a minister for the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which the web site (questformeaning.org) describes as an online congregation of Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals.
Ungar is also Jewish, and thinking about the behavioral restrictions imposed by the Jewish Sabbath helped to shape her poem.
“We generally think of restrictions as being a negative,” she said. “But the idea of the Sabbath is that accepting these restrictions — you can’t exchange money, drive a car, work — can be a spiritual discipline that is a source of beauty, a source of the holy, as opposed to just being a pain in the ass.”
The outpouring in response to “Pandemic” (which she gave the Tribune permission to use) has moved Ungar. She particularly appreciated the thank-you from a rabbi who’s a chaplain in a home for the elderly. His job is to comfort others and he was grateful to have her poem to sustain him.
“Somebody working at a large home for the elderly, that’s ground zero,” she said. She was glad that people like him — the medical personnel and "all the people really doing the hard work” — found some comfort in her words.
“I have very few useful skills, right?” she said. “I am good at writing poetry and training dogs. You do not want me at a medical emergency.”
But sometimes emergency aid includes helpful words and Ungar has given us some at a moment of need, none more important than these:
are in one another’s hands.
Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. A Georgia native, she has written her column since 1992 and was previously a Tribune national correspondent. She also teaches yoga, plays mandolin and piano, and co-hosts an annual holiday singalong at the Old Town School of Folk Music.